Every two seconds, someone in the world has a stroke. Every five seconds, someone dies due to stroke. World Stroke Day, on October 29, is an opportune time to make note of the progress that’s been made to stop stroke—and the efforts that have fallen short.
First the good news: Strokes can be prevented and if they do occur more people than ever are surviving stroke. Stroke death rates decrease thanks to medical advances, including clot-busting medications and the widespread establishment of hospital stroke teams ready to spring into action quickly when an individual is suspected of having a stroke.
But there’s bad news, too. Strokes are still the most common cause of death around the world after heart disease. In the U.S., stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability. Survivors can be left with a range of problems, including visual or speech difficulties, limb weakness or paralysis, and loss of bladder and bowel control. In fact nearly half of stroke survivors have some type of physical or mental challenge, often requiring a caregiver.
Yet up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented! What can patients and doctors do to avoid stroke and its devastating consequences?
Know the stroke risk factors.
Certain medical conditions increase the risk for stroke. Atrial fibrillation (AFib), a type of irregular heartbeat, which affects an estimated 2.2 million people in the U.S., is a major one. Irregular heartbeats can cause blood to pool in parts of the heart, where they can form clots that travel to the brain and trigger a stroke.
Other important risk factors are high blood pressure (called the silent killer), high cholesterol, diabetes and carotid artery disease. Patients with these conditions should make every effort to manage them, including seeing a doctor regularly and taking prescribed medications.
Adopt healthy lifestyle measures.
Everyday habits can reduce the risk of stroke and improve health overall. In general aim to eat a plant-based diet, including plentiful quantities of vegetables and fruits, legumes and whole grains (at least half the time); lower-fat dairy foods; proteins, including lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds; and healthy fats, such as olive or canola oils. Minimize added sugar and salt and consume alcohol in moderation—one drink or less a day for women and no more than two drinks for men.
Since smoking doubles the risk of stroke by promoting the formation of clots and contributing to the build-up of plaque in the arteries, it’s wise to kick the habit. And try to meet federal guidelines for physical activity: 150 minutes or more (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. But keep in mind that any exercise is better than none.
Recognize the symptoms of stroke.
The most common symptoms of stroke are summarized in the acronym FAST:
F (Face) – Ask the person to smile. Does the face droop?
A (Arms) – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S (Speech) – Ask the person to repeat a phrase. Is speech garbled or slurred?
T (Time) – If any of these symptoms are present, don’t hesitate …call 911 immediately! For each minute that passes, blood flow is impeded and brain damage can occur.
Consider certain blood tests
Inflammation and lipoprotein disorders underlie many of the common risk factors for stroke. Testing such as Lp-PLA2 , Lp(a), and the ApoB/Apo A1 ratio offered by Cleveland HeartLab can help doctors and patients gauge stroke risk more closely, catching problems early while there is time to act, reduce risk, and prevent a stroke from happening. Careful monitoring and a commitment to healthy living can go a long way towards improving health and solving the stroke problem. Seriously, you don’t have to have a stroke!